Monthly Archives: March 2023

Learning in the Carpool Lane


I HATE school carpool. It is the bane of my existence during the school year. That and repeatedly searching to find matching tops for reusable water bottles. Over the fourteen years I’ve been carting children to school, I’ve learned that I need to remove myself as much as possible from the frustration of carpool, so I park and meet my kids at an agreed upon spot in the afternoons.  But in the mornings, we roll through the line as required. The part that makes me feel crazy is the other parents who break the line. As if their time is more important. As though the rules are irrelevant and don’t apply to them. I always wonder what they’re teaching their kids. That cheating is okay? They end up slowing down the line and making everyone else mad, but they don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. 

The other day, my oldest son forgot his practice uniform, so I took it to him at his high school. It wasn’t the end of the day, but with only one period remaining, a lot of the student drivers with early release times were leaving. And that’s when I witnessed the most orderly carpool I’ve ever seen. Better than any adult driver carpool by far. Better than any exit after a concert or sporting event. There was a main line of cars that I was in. Then there were four or five side lines from the parking lots where cars sat waiting to enter the main line. Every single time a car in the main line reached an auxiliary line, the car stopped, allowed one car into the main line, and then proceeded. The cars trying to get in the main line waited and didn’t try to nose their way in. Not once did a second car try to jump in. These teenage drivers were polite and efficient. No horn honking. No cheating. 

I couldn’t believe it. No one was directing traffic. No teachers were watching. But those kids. Those kids were amazing. And as silly as it might seem, the whole episode gave me a spark of hope. While I assume carpool at the high school does not always run as smoothly as it did that day, the young drivers were patient when I saw them. They were not in such a hurry or so self-centered that they completely disregarded the people around them. I think we could learn a thing or two from the way they acted. 

Adulting can be hard. Difficult days sometimes outnumber the easy ones. But being a kid can be hard too. Those students carry a lot of stress and pressure. If those young people can figure out carpool in a high school parking lot, they have the potential to do just about anything. I’m being completely serious. And if they can hang on to the kindness and the respect that they showed one another on that day as they mature, then they will do well. And us grownups would do well to follow their lead. To show a little more kindness and a bit more consideration for others. In carpool and in life.    

Poetry of Promise


We were on spring break in Washington DC when we found a bookshop combined with an eatery named “Busboys and Poets.” Of course, I was instantly in love with this concept. As we waited on our meal, I wandered around the book portion of the store and noticed signs extolling peace, love, equality, and several quotes by Langston Hughes. Then, I saw the inspiration behind the restaurant on the menu. “Busboys and Poets is proud to be named in honor of renowned Black poet Langston Hughes. In the early 1920s, Hughes resided in Washington D.C. where he worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel. One evening, he placed several of his poems on the dinner table of American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay. The next day, in local newspapers, Lindsay informed the world of his meeting with a ‘Busboy Poet.’”

Later, during our meal. I watched as an actual busboy approached a table with plates of food. Suddenly, he dropped one of the plates and it shattered on the ground in a loud crash. Food and porcelain scattered on the floor between two groups of people of different races: an older couple having breakfast and two women with their laptops working. He immediately dropped to the floor and began picking up the pieces. Even from a distance, I could sense his embarrassment.

And so did the people at the tables. As he crouched between them, they all reassured him that they were fine, no one was hurt, it happens, no big deal. A manager arrived with a broom and dustpan and the busboy quickly and quietly exited. The two couples repeated their reassurances to the manager. Then, one of the businesswomen asked the manager to bring the busboy back to the table. The manager agreed and brought the busboy back. He stood with the busboy in an act of solidarity to make sure nothing untoward happened. I couldn’t hear what the woman said, but I could tell by the look on her face that she was not berating him. She smiled and talked to him for a couple of minutes. I can only imagine that she told him a story of her time as a server when something similar happened to her or reminded him that this shouldn’t ruin his day. All I knew was that kindness was at the root of all the interactions with the busboy after the plate drop. 

I realized in that moment; I’d witnessed a microcosm of the world Langston Hughes dreamed about even in the face of extreme inequality. We are not by any means perfect as Americans. And there is a reason a portrait of George Floyd hung on the wall of this cafe. But the idea that someday we can do more and be better is a promise that seems far away at times and attainable at others. 

In the poem “Let America Be America Again,” Hughes challenges the American “ideals” by saying America has not fulfilled its pledges to the downtrodden of any color, the immigrants from any country, the lowest of the economic strata. Toward the end of the poem, he writes:

“O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again. 

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!”

Hughes published that poem in 1936. Read that again – 1936. Yet, it still rings true today. But perhaps the kindness those patrons demonstrated to a busboy in 2023 means that not all hope is lost, and that the poetry of promise may still prevail. 

Just Be Yourself


This weekend, I’ll visit my daughter Riley at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I’m excited to see Riley but am nervous as well. I’m going for mother-daughter weekend at Riley’s sorority. I was never in a sorority in college. I knew that I wouldn’t fit in because I was nerdy and somewhat reserved in social settings. I felt awkward and unsure. At one point during my second year of college, a boy I had a crush on was describing girl stereotypes based on how girls looked. When I asked him how I looked, he said, “You look smart.” A little piece of my soul died that day.  

Thankfully, I learned to be more open in social situations throughout college, law school, and beyond. I became more comfortable in my own skin. I now wear what I want and don’t care as much about what others think. But sometimes, I still fall into the comparison trap. I’m not glamorous like some women who seem to be effortlessly chic all the time. So, the idea of spending time with the mothers of Riley’s sorority friends who also may have been sorority girls, made me anxious. I went through my closet (after I cleaned it) to find some things I hadn’t worn in a while. I went shopping a couple of times to find some new clothes. I got a haircut and a pedicure. I sent pictures to Riley for her review. All of that, and I was still worried.

And I was annoyed with myself for allowing this to bother me. I am a grown ass woman. I felt like I was back in high school, however, so I told my mom about the situation. She immediately responded, “just be yourself.” She’s been telling me that for forty-eight years. Why can’t I take her advice after all this time? But something about my mom telling me to be myself got through to me the other day.

In my Presbyterian denomination’s tradition, we have a phrase, “the church reformed, always reforming.” The denomination began as an effort to reform problems with the dominant religion. But reform didn’t end way back then – we can always learn, do better, and keep striving today and every day. When it comes to me individually, I hope I am evolved, always evolving. I am not the same person I was in my younger years. Not merely on the outside or in social settings, but who I am on the inside. This seems obvious. How sad would it be if any of us were the same as we were in high school or college twenty-five plus years later? But in reality, truly being confident in our mental and emotional maturity is harder when we face something that triggers those old feelings of inadequacy. 

If we are still evolving, becoming more authentic as we age, then we can also forgive ourselves when we slip back into old patterns. We can recognize that those negative feelings no longer serve us, as if they ever did. We can continue to change by giving ourselves grace. Instead of letting the past hold us back in the present, we can realize this is another opportunity to grow into our future selves. Perhaps then, we will be more at ease just being ourselves.   

Just One Act


My friend dropped her son off at church for the youth group meeting that my husband Ben and I were leading. She said she was headed to the grocery store while youth group was going on. I must’ve made some comment about needing to stop by the store or maybe I just groaned, but she immediately asked what I needed. I thought for a few seconds – what did I really need without causing an imposition? “I need strawberries,” I said. I explained that I put strawberries in the boys’ lunches, and the strawberries were the only thing I lacked to make their lunches on Monday morning. Ben chuckled but my friend insisted it was not a problem. Two hours later when youth group ended, my friend handed me a bag with a pound of strawberries in it. 

When my friend said she would buy the strawberries, I felt such relief. My stress level eased. I’d thought I would have to go by the store sometime after youth group to be prepared for Monday morning. But I know myself, and if I’d gone to the store that night, I would’ve tried to recall the items on the long list I had at home. I would’ve rushed around the store like a crazy person trying to grab as many things as I could. But now the pressure was off. I had the one thing I needed to get through Monday morning. 

After I got the kids to school on Monday, I roamed leisurely through Target with my list in hand. I took my time. My friend who’d gotten the strawberries for me texted that it was National Strawberry Day. I thanked her again for her help. Her kindness had completely changed my whole evening and morning. Her willingness to ask what I needed and then follow through was all it took to make a huge difference for me. 

Today, I was with a couple of my writing friends, and we were discussing the difficulty I had getting started on a new project. They made some suggestions, which were thoughtful and helpful. I told them I worked best with deadlines and accountability, so I promised that I would try their approach before our next meeting in April and show up with writing in hand as proof. I hope this one concrete step will unlock my resistance and inspire me to begin in earnest. I felt better as I left our meeting because I knew the next thing I’d agreed to do. 

Perhaps the key to helping others and helping ourselves is to take one specific action. Something that we can easily commit to do. Instead of trying to solve the whole problem, we can pick a small measurable goal. In that way, we will not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the project or the problem which makes getting started difficult or seem impossible. Dwelling on the abstract delays progress. It’s easy to get caught in feelings of desperation or disillusionment that paralyze us. A single choice to act can open our eyes and minds to the possibilities. A simple gesture of kindness can have repercussions far beyond the act itself. 

The next time we face a stressful or seemingly insurmountable obstacles, let’s ask the question of ourselves and others: what is the one thing we can do right now, no matter how insignificant it may appear, to move forward? Just asking the question and deciding to take one small action may be all we need to shake ourselves loose from the anxiety and pressure we feel. If we can relieve a tiny burden for another or make progress no matter how small, we can build momentum day after day that may carry us toward achieving the greater good.